Astronaut Lisa Nowak was fired by NASA on Wednesday, a month after she was arrested for attempted kidnapping in Florida, the space agency said.
Nowak, 43, was arrested Feb. 5 after police said she drove 900 miles from Houston to Orlando wearing an adult diaper in order to avoid stops so that she could confront a romantic rival.
Police say Nowak, a mother of three, donned a wig and followed Colleen Shipman from an airport terminal to her car to confront her, then pepper sprayed her through a cracked window when Shipman wouldn’t unlock the door. Police who arrested Nowak and searched her car reported finding a BB gun, a new steel mallet, knife and rubber tubing.
Nowak was charged with attempted kidnapping and burglary with assault. Nowak pleaded not guilty to attempted kidnapping and burglary with assault and was released on bond with an ankle monitoring device.
NASA officials say the decision is no reflection on Nowak’s possible guilt or innocence. Instead, the agency says it doesn’t have an administrative system in place to handle the allegations.
If Nowak were a civil servant, NASA would have the choice of placing her on administrative leave, leave without pay or indefinite suspension until the charges are resolved, said NASA spokesman James Hartsfield in Houston. But because she is an officer, those options are not available.
Nowak, a captain in the Navy, instead will return to the military.
“Because Nowak is a naval officer on assignment to NASA, rather than a NASA civil servant, she is not subject to administrative action by NASA,” agency officials said in a statement.
She will be assigned to the staff at the Chief of Naval Air Training in Corpus Christi, Texas, starting in two weeks, Navy Cmdr. Lydia Robertson said. Robertson said she didn’t know what specific job Nowak would be doing.
Chief astronaut Steve Lindsey notified Nowak late last month that she was to be fired from the astronaut corps.
Her dimissal marked the first time NASA has publicly fired an astronaut, according to space historian Roger Launius of the Smithsonian Institution. She is also the first active astronaut to be charged with a felony, he said.
Nowak’s frantic road trip to confront Shipman may have been sparked after she uncovered steamy e-mails Shipman sent to shuttle pilot Navy Cmdr. William Oefelein, including one he received during his mission aboard the shuttle Discovery in December, according to documents released Monday.
Police found a letter in Nowak’s car that “indicated how much Mrs. Nowak loved Mr. Oefelein,” the arrest affidavit said. And Nowak had copies of e-mails between Shipman and Oefelein.
Oefelein remains on active duty while working for NASA. Robertson said she could not speculate whether his status is under review.
Since her arrest, Nowak, has told police that her relationship with Oefelein was more than a working relationship but less than a romantic one. But Oefelein, 41, told investigators they had been romantically involved since 2004.
This report contains information from The Associated Press.
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